Wellies, skating and no late marks at school

THE severe winter of 1940 was a real eye-opener for us London vaccies, unversed then in the extremes of the countryside s seasonal changes. All had been lush tranquillity when we d arrived at our rural haven in a sun-lit September, and while familiar with

THE severe winter of 1940 was a real eye-opener for us London vaccies, unversed then in the extremes of the countryside's seasonal changes.

All had been lush tranquillity when we'd arrived at our rural haven in a sun-lit September, and while familiar with snow in east London, we were amazed at what "in the bleak mid-winter" could really mean.

Heavy snow, that first wartime one, transformed the scraggiest of hedgerows into castellated towers of jaw-dropping beauty.

At the village school late arrival red ticks were suspended, to allow for slogging through snow that came above the tops of youngsters' wellies. It was really for those who were a bike-ride from school and who, with cycling impossible, mostly stayed home anyway.

My big brother and I had under a mile's walk, but made the most of permitted late-arrival to stop and stare, despite the chill.

There were other delays too, prime among them snowball fights with schoolmates along the way.

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We'd struggle into class, avoiding the stern, reproving eyes of Mrs O M Taylor. Living nearmost of us, she rightly felt that if, at late middle-age, she could get there on time, there was no reason why we couldn't. Patches on our coats from direct-hit snowballs confirmed her suspicions.

Olive Taylor may have been no great shakes as a teacher - British kings and queens and times tables by rote was her style - but she knew all about dealing with winter.

Nobody got through her classroom door with their wellies on.

"Go and leave them in the hall, and not too near the radiators to perish the rubber," she'd order.

In that savvy way, Olive ensured her classroom stayed free of the puddles made by snow melting off wellies, and which school caretaker Bunt Murray could be heard cursing as he mopped up.

Olive would smile as she warned each late arrival they'd better be sure of knowing their own boots at home-time.

With our feet invariably a bit damp, the classroom smelled strongly day-long of drying wool.

What agonies too for any unlucky enough to have spuds (holes) in their socks for classmates to sneer at!

Poor old Brisher Martin was once revealed as being entirely sock-less. Nor would Olive let him warm his bare tootsies near the radiator.

"Only make those chilblains worse, stupid boy," she snapped.

At such out-of-the-ordinary times school ended early so we might get home before dark, might being the operative word. Those with torches delighted in dallying long enough to break blackout regulations by flashing beams around, making the scene even more spectacular.

It was not flying weather, ours or theirs, so chances of the Luftwaffe being about were nil, quite apart from the village having no strategic value, as its one war-long bomb evinced.

But while we enjoyed an imagined fearful risk, we criticised anyone who overdid the illuminating.

We would also test the ice on the small pond on the way to school. It was strictly a one-moorhen job and frozen solid enough to have borne an elephant.

We made a big production of first time on it, brushing off the inches deep snow and tentatively stamping, with both hands hanging on to the fence before standing arms triumphantly aloft.

It was useless for making a slide. That we did on the village pond, where competition was great over who could hurtle fastest, smartest down the ten-yards slide.

On our bums, with arms and legs in the air; face down ditto; one-footed with the other one waving nonchalantly about; seeing who did the most full-circle turns before running out of slide.

Jim Daly started a new craze by embellishing a one-footer with loud raps on the ice from the lifted boot.

His brother Fred, a polio victim who still gamely slid, revealed it wasn't Jim's own idea.

Their dad told them he did it as a boy in Ireland.

That hard winter the village was virtually cut off for days. The one-a-day bus couldn't get through, nor could my foster-folks go out on their carrier round.

Only gentry had phones so steps had to be taken to look out for the old and infirm.

Those steps were, perforce, literal ones - and every bit as worthy as any Good King Wenceslas ever took!